On Anthropology Field Schools

In Philippine anthropology departments, the start of April heralds the beginning of field schools. This is the time when professors drag their students away from the stuffy confines of the classroom and push them into the grime and sweat of fieldwork. For at least one month, students scrape  the earth until callouses grow on their palms and the tedious job of accessioning artifacts lulls them to sleep. The nights are spent on heated anthropological discussions up until the wee hours, sometimes over bottles of beer and karaoke blaring in the background.

One of the best training ground for the basics of archaeology is the Boljoon Archaeological Field School of Prof. Jobers Bersales of the University of San Carlos. In here, students are given a well-rounded training in archaeological excavation techniques and theory while also in a very scenic place. The site is right at the yard of a Spanish-era church with the entrance facing the blue seas of Cebu Strait. A fortress of  hills and cliffs with sparse vegetation envelops the area and, at its highest point, a sentry box made of coral rocks lies in decay. As the field school’s ex-bone guy and field hand, I had the chance to see the artifacts closely. We were able to recover interesting gold specimen, ceramics, precious stone beads, potteries, among other things. One of the exciting burial finds were two pieces of needle-shaped animal shell(?) with deliberate puncture holes at its base. This burial ornament was located on top of the pelvic region of a male individual. We also noticed  skull moulding and teeth filing practices in many of the buried individuals.

One of my memorable field school moments was in Joyce Well, New Mexico, located in that boot heel-shaped corner of this southwest state. We camped there for six weeks in the desert wilderness, amidst the purring of mountain lions and the scampering of roadrunners. Dr. William H. Walker, the field school director, armed us with machetes in case a wayward cat goes inside our tents (I think the purpose was mostly psychological than anything else. He could just have given us rosary beads against this very efficient ambush predators). Working on the Casas Grandes-type ball courts and pueblos, Walker and the team of field archaeologists helped students connect archaeological theory with the drudgery of digging. Walker would lie down flat on his belly next to your excavation pit and reveal the story of the scraped earth. He would talk endlessly about formation processes, the paleoenvironment of the site, the people’s religion, technology, sports, etc. that you could visualize the whole culture right before your eyes. Walker could also turn an ordinary trowel into a surgeon’s scalpel, deftly slicing the contours of the soil, exposing the artifact for removal and documentation.

Resting in the middle of a night trek

Another nice field memory was the 2006 primatological field school I co-organized (with Carla Escabi) in Bohol. Two primate species were observed: Philippine tarsiers (Tarsius syrichta) and Philippine macaques (Macaca fascicularis). The behavior, ecology and conservation of these species were the main topics for the training.  Although macaques are not endangered, we focused on them for animal identification exercises and the recording of animal behaviors because of their size.  We followed the format from other field schools, such as the La Suerte Biological Field Station in Costa Rica.

For the tarsiers, we  did daytime and nocturnal observational treks in the forests of Corella, Bohol. We found a pregnant female and a (possibly) mating couple seeking refuge under a clump of leaves in one of our day treks.  This couple was found no more than 6 inches from each other (which we found surprising since tarsiers are considered solitary in the literature).  Though they appear sluggish during daytime, tarsiers can leap from one branch to the next in a flash at night. They are so fast and small that it is impossible to follow them through the thicket. One time, we lay down underneath a tarsier sleeping site for hours until it woke up. At first, the primate stretched its long ankle bones and elongated its body as if it were doing a vertical push-up. Then the tarsier licked the tufts of hair at both sides of its shoulder and then the knees. Though we stayed so silent, its bat-like ears perked up like small satellite disks pointing in our direction. Rotating its head towards us, the tarsier stared for a moment with those moon-shaped eyes (by the way, each eye is bigger than its brain) and, in a split second, jumped three meters to the next branch.

mother and infant tarsier

We followed the tarsier for 30 minutes but its speed and agility were too much for non-vertical leapers like us.

What I like best about field schools is the learning opportunity students get in doing anthropology. While book knowledge is important, being on the field intensifies anthropological curiosity and interest. With all the discussions, work, and the general anthro-conducive atmosphere, students get to explore research questions and dream about what they could be in the future. I thus encourage everyone to head on to the nearest anthropology department and inquire about joining field schools.  The experience is really worth the time.


New Tarsier-like Fossil Primate Discovered

ResearchBlogging.orgPrimatologists revealed today the discovery of a tarsier-like fossil primate species found in the Eastern Pyrenees, Spain. According to Minwer-Barakat et al, most of the Pseudoloris pyrenaicus’ dentition was recovered, “including those teeth hardly known for other species of the genus, such as lower and upper incisors.”  The authors believed that based on its dental morphology, this “species shows intermediate features between Pseudoloris isabenae from Capella and Pseudoloris parvulus, present in different Spanish and French sites.”

This is the fifth Pseudoloris (Omomyidae, Primates) species described thus far, with P. parvulus as the most common species of this genera.  Primatologists suggests that this Middle Eocene primate were insectivores and survivors of a dramatic climate change around 34 million years ago.

Pseudolorises “were relatively independent from humid and densely forested habitats and, as secondary consumers, less susceptible to drastic changes in floral composition than the large folivorous adapids.” Köhler and Moyà-Solà posited that the lifestyle was a “preadaptation to endure the disappearance of tropical forests under the harder environmental conditions during the Lower Oligocene, which were less suitable for the much larger and more specialized contemporaneous primates.”

This fossil primate has also been important to the understanding of the evolution of smaller-bodied primates, such as the tarsiers. The similarity of the dental morphology to the tarsiers has been noted by the philosopher-scientist Teilhard de Chardin and by later primate taxonomists. Many are of the opinion that the tarsier/omomyid link is stronger than the tarsier/anthropoid link.

Minwer-Barakat R, Marigó J, & Moyà-Solà S (2010). A new species of Pseudoloris (Omomyidae, Primates) from the middle Eocene of Sant Jaume de Frontanyà (Eastern Pyrenees, Spain). American journal of physical anthropology PMID: 20310058

Köhler M, & Moyà-Solà S (1999). A finding of oligocene primates on the European continent. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 96 (25), 14664-7 PMID: 10588762

Simons, E. L. (2003). The fossil record of tarsier evolution Tarsiers: Past, Present, and Future, P. C. Wright, E. L. Simons and S. Gursky (eds.), pp.9–34. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick.

Earth Hour: Warming the Planet Through Facebook

Major urban cities went dim yesterday in support of World Wildlife Fund‘s Earth Hour. Started in 2007, the campaign is aimed at raising global consciousness on climate change issues and encourages everyone to reduce their carbon footprint. Although this activity has been much criticized as a “neo-Luddite waste of time“, I believe that the one-hour electricity shut down shows the kind of global solidarity needed in addressing climate change. The Huffington Post expresses this sentiment more clearly:

Earth Hour is not just about one hour. It’s about individual empowerment and generating an interest and a global voice on climate change action. It’s about uniting people, either virtually or in person, within their community, county, state, country and across borders. It’s about knowing there are millions of others wanting and asking for the same thing–a secure climate and future.

The Earth Hour allows us to reflect on the growing fossil fuel addiction that permeates contemporary society. Everything we do–e.g., from facebooking to cars to TV to game consoles to eating, etc.–contribute to an increased demand for fossil energy, and thus to more carbon emissions. Investigating on how much time we spent on social networking sites, The Nielsen Company revealed that global consumers spent more than “five and half hours on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in December 2009, an 82% increase from the same time last year when users were spending just over three hours on social networking sites.”

Our fossil energy-dependent lifestyle however is all the more alarming given that scientists believe global oil production will peak by 2014, if it has not already. Experts suggest that “there is only about 1.2% more oil available each year, not enough to keep up with 1.5% annual demand growth.” In effect, we are  on a downward spiral: our demand increases while fossil fuel supply is almost nil.

The problem however is that most governments are not interested in veering energy consumption away from fossil fuels. Instead of weaning our technologies from traditional energy sources and searching for fuel alternatives, governments have opened up their territories to more extractive activities from multinational oil companies.

We blogged about this in the previous post. A similar case is also happening  in the Amazon. Finer and Orta-Martinez, presented that up to 72% of the Peruvian Amazon has been zoned for hydrocarbon activities in the past two years, leading to a second exploration boom in the area (in the 1970s, resistance to hydrocarbon exploration went deadly as the government and indigenous protesters clashed). Survival International reported that the world’s last uncontacted tribes and the rich biological diversity of the Peruvian Amazon are threatened by the detonation of thousands of seismic explosives.

It is quite ghastly to think that the innocent tending of our farms over at Farmville or the cooking of sumptuous dishes in Cafeworld might have contributed to the displacement of indigenous peoples, endangered many species, and raised Earth’s temperature. Reality however bites. The consequences of our cyberactivities are virtually real. Our fossil fuel addiction is eating this planet. Fast.

Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration in the Camotes Sea

Map of Service Contract

Below is a short video on a fishing community’s resistance against the resumption of NorAsian Energy’s offshore oil and gas exploration in the Camotes Sea. A news report indicates that the survey will “cover a total of 100 line kilometers in Borbon waters or at a distance of at least 2 kilometers from the town’s shoreline.” The approved service contract extends to neighboring areas as well (see map), particularly in Cebu, Leyte, and Bohol (current survey coverage is at 900-line kilometers).

Environmentalists and fisherfolk groups fear that the seismic survey will adversely impact the marine environment and the livelihood of coastal residents. According to the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FiDEC) and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty:

seismic surveys involve the use of a ship with an airgun and hydrophones connected to a cable that is dragged underwater. The sonic boom from an airgun array is 255 decibels (dB), way over the human threshold of 80 dB and that of animals which is even lower. Seismic blasting is expected to damage the reproductive organs, burst air bladders, and cause physiological stress in marine organisms. It can also cause behavioral modifications and reduce or eliminate available habitat, alter fish distribution by tens of kilometers, and damage planktonic eggs and larvae.

FiDEC further added that the impact of the continued exploration activities will result in an estimated 20% cut in the domestic fish production in the Philippines for the next 10 to 20 years. In the 2007 Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Ltd. (Japex) seismic survey, Vince Cinches of FiDEC reported a significant drop in fish catch, from the normal yield of six to 11 kilos to zero to 2.5 kilos after the survey.

The campaigners call for the cancellation of the service contracts. The Borbon Alliance of Fisherfolk Association (BAFA) urged the public to take heed because “the protection of the seas is not only an issue for coastal fishers.” Marine scientists regard this area as one of the least studied environments in the region. The Camotes Sea is also one of the places where cetaceans, whale sharks, and other large marine animals frequent.

WATCH THIS video below. It gives a nice background on the oil and gas exploration from the perspective of the coastal fishers.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration“, posted with vodpod

A Visit to the Market and Some Baybay Memories

One of the places I go whenever I am in a new place is the market, a holdover of sorts from my days as a street rat in Baybay, a small town tucked between the seas and the mountain. The market was and still is the nerve center of my town for various reasons. Money gets shuffled in exchange for products, gossip hops around like flies, friends meet for coffee or beer. Every market does have a persona. It can be downright in-your-face with aggressive vendors hawking their wares or as cozy as a walk on the beach. The transaction, though primarily economic, assumes a  personal and even filial tone, quite unlike the distance one experiences with vending machines and cash registers.

In the world of kids however, the marketplace is transformed into a whole different planet. The markets for us were sources of playthings–a pirate chest for everything good and wonderful. We collected empty cigarette packs as paper money, each brand or color denoting a corresponding  value. Kids back in the day would fold these neatly between the fingers, or press inside a book or a wallet, to make it crisp to the touch. How do we use it? As money, of course. There is nothing as real as those tobacco-stained papers and, to many, those were even more valuable than the real thing.  Indeed, they were very scarce that sometimes kids kept these in a treasure chest for the next cigarette money season.

Bottle caps. Yes, we scavenged for them too. We gathered these near eateries and, oftentimes, the owner collected the caps in a plastic cup and hands them out like candies. We used these tin caps in a game called taksi. A square box is drawn on the ground where the caps are put. About five meters away, a line is set where players throw another cap to dislodge the “bets” (i.e., the caps) out of the square box. The cap that one uses for throwing, the mano, is the most cherished item of the entire pile. Kids go to great lengths for the mano. They would polish them until the color is erased and left with a distinctive shine, like the silver of a knight’s sword. Sometimes, kids would sneak in the church and secretly dump the cap fast in holy water to imbue it with some preternatural power, somehow wishing that an angel would guide the mano and hit everything like crazy. And well, as a kid, I did include my mano in my evening prayers too.

I can go on and on with what children do with bottle caps. They can also be flattened like minute shields with two button holes at the center. In these holes a string is passed through them, sort of like a belt that turns the shield faster and faster when stretched. The edges of the shield have to be razor sharp so that it can cut through cleanly your opponent’s string. The game is really like a kitefight, the only difference is your “weapon” is right in front of your chest spinning.
In other markets, such as this one in La Plaza del Mercado, the same intimacy can still be felt despite being situated right at the heart of  Rio Piedras, a busy business and academic district. Relaxed and personalized, one can sense that the customers and the vendors have been transacting for years, if not for generations. There is this feeling of familiarity amidst the assortment of goods. Not only because the vendor knows the customer but also because the goods purchased resonate something deeply personal and cultural for the local residents.

Take for example the Botanica. Medicinal herbs, potions, and religious icons are  dispensed here for the believers. While statues of Catholic saints are on display, you can also find an eclectic assortment of religious artifacts on Buddhism, Vodou, Hinduism, Santeria, and New Age religions. According to Beloz and Chavez (2005):

Most Latin American (Latino) immigrants to the United States participate in the dominant health care system. […] Oftentimes, while utilizing this health care system, they continue to use their own culturally appropriate health care practices […] In curanderismo, santeria, and espiritismo, the practitioners assess the patient and, depending on diagnosis, prepares a healing remedy or a variety of healing remedies. A remedy is any combination of medicinal herbs, religious amulets, and/or other products used for the prevention, treatment, or palliation of folk and somatic illnesses. It is usually administered by the practitioner and may involve several sessions. In other cases, a curandero, espiritista, or santero will provide his/her client with a list of herbs and/or religious amulets needed for the remedy. The client will go to the botánica with this “shopping list,” purchase the product(s), and return to the healer for preparation and administration of the remedy. If the remedy is to be administered over a long period of time, he/she may be instructed to administer the remedy at home.

There is much syncretism in these botanicas. jrank.org has this to say:

Botánicas that serve customers of the Santería religion offer articles pertaining to ceremonial rituals. Santería traces its beginning to the Yoruba people of precolonial Nigeria and Benin who were brought as slaves to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. During their settlement in the Caribbean, the practitioners of Santería incorporated Catholicism for survival, as the open expression of native religious practices was prohibited. In the Yoruba belief system, the traditional orishas (gods) were associated with a specific health condition. For example, the orish Chango is associated with violent death. In the New World, Chango became Saint Barbara, the patron saint of those who died violently. Santeria botánicas tend to carry items of the orish and the clothing worn by practitioners during services. Other ritual merchandise includes ceremonial masks, elekes (beaded necklaces), drums, and other traditional musical instruments.

Going to these stalls is equivalent to a crash course in cultural education.  The story of commodity exchange goes beyond the shuffling of cash. What I find elegant in visiting these places is the opportunity to observe spaces where capitalism gets indigenized, localized, and perhaps  even subverted: right at the heart of the money economy.


Gomez-Beloz A, & Chavez N (2001). The botánica as a culturally appropriate health care option for Latinos. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 7 (5), 537-46 PMID: 11719946

Botánicas – Botánicas, yierberías, boticas, curanderismo, veladoras, milagros, curandero, orishas, elekes, Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness

Guardian: New species of human ancestor found in Siberia

Over at guardian.co.uk, scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology announced the discovery of what could be another species belonging to the Homo lineage. Here are some excerpts culled from the Guardian news article:

Altai Mountains

The finding suggests an undocumented human species lived alongside Neanderthals and early modern humans in parts of Asia as recently as 30,000 years ago. If confirmed, it would be the first time a new human ancestor has been identified since the discovery of Homo floresiensis, the diminutive “hobbits” that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 13,000 years ago.

Fragments of the finger bone were recovered from Denisova cave in the Altai mountain range that straddles Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. The cave was occupied by humans for 125,000 years and a variety of stone tools and bones have been recovered.

The size of the bone has led scientists to believe it came from a child, aged between five and seven, though they are unable to say whether it was male or female.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, ran genetic tests on the bone fragments and were stunned to find it did not match the DNA profile of Neanderthals or early modern humans.Johannes Krause sequenced DNA from mitochondria, the sub-cellular bodies that carry genetic material passed down only the maternal line. Because the DNA came from the mother, they called the creature “X-woman”.

Cebuano Left Language: precision and the reinvention of texts

***I found this while rummaging through my email. I wrote this as an undergraduate paper (around 2000) for a class in anthropological linguistics.

ResearchBlogging.orgTranslation is the process of making a text intelligible to a defined reading audience. Mario Pei (1965) argues that technical problems are involved in translation, including among others, how to capture certain nuances in the original language absent in the language used in translation (e.g., slangs and colloquialisms, deceptive cognates, idiomatic expressions, and untranslatable words). This led Pei to suggest that problems in connection with translation are infinite. With the onset of more recent theorizing, the problems related to translation indeed have become more complex. Translation is not simply the rendering of a text from one language to another but is also a process whereby contestation takes place. The act of translating necessitates a recognition that what is being translated is “foreign” and this process undergoes articulation, manipulation, and reinvention of the text in the local culture.

Resil Mojares (1990:75) posits that power relations are also involved in the translation process. Since language is a contested space, the translated texts reflect how these are manipulated and reinvented to suit specific domains. This was shown in many studies on colonial as well as contemporary literature where the text of the dominated are “redone” to fit the tastes of the dominant and/or the dominant’s texts are interpreted into the vernacular to strengthen its ideological hegemony—thereby, tightening the grip on the masses’ consciousness. The recognition that language is an arena of struggle presupposes that it is both dynamic and fluid. bell hooks (1995:299) illustrated how the American Blacks reinterpreted and transformed the “oppressor’s language.” The black vernacular speech “enables resistance to white supremacy” and “forges a space for alternative cultural production and alternative epistemologies—different ways of thinking and knowing that were crucial to creating a counterhegemonic worldview.” Furthermore, Sengupta (1995:159) notes that the role of culture and history need to be emphasized in the study of translated texts since this highlights “the intersecting networks and the manipulations behind a given positioning: of the translator, her or his culture, and the text/culture being translated.”

For Mojares (1990:80), there are distinct meanings of translation in the Cebuano context. He pointed out the following types: a) translation as the act of proposing or imposing, b) translation as the act of quarrying: of appropriating texts, taking them apart, mining them for what is “usable,” c) translation as the act of transferring: of simply recycling, ‘remaindering’ texts from one language to another, and d) translation as the act of hubad. Mojares (1990) notes that the act of hubad “involved not only the act of baring…but, more important, the notion of its consequence, of the beholder or listener becoming knowledge-filled, his learning increased.”

In this context, this paper explores the translation experience of a particular group in Cebuano society. I proceed by examining the translation experience of the mainstream Cebuano Left. For this paper’s purposes, I will attempt to look into their translation experience–more specifically on the localization of some aspects of the national Left ideology.  I believe the translation here presents a tension between national identity construction and local cultural identity.

The Context

The Nationalist Democratic (ND) movement is a Maoist inspired revolutionary movement. Back in the 1960s, the fledgling Cebuano ND movement started out as a conglomeration of youth organizations campaigning for democratic reforms under the Marcos regime. In 1968, four years after its founding congress in Manila, Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu (KM-Cebu) was born. KM-Cebu spread across the major schools in the city, notably University of San Carlos, University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu Institute of Technology, and the University of the Visayas—and accordingly, membership rose to the thousands.

These youth activists “exerted efforts to plunge themselves into masswork among the workers, like those in foundry shops, and among the peasants,” aside from the usual organizing work among the students and teachers in various educational institutions. According to Kagawasan (1995:4), the underground publication of KM-Cebu: “…during and after the First Quarter Storm of 1970 streamed forth cadres for the different fields of revolutionary work but mainly for building the guerilla fronts in Visayas and Mindanao. From the ranks of the youth emerged warriors, leaders, and servants of the revolutionary movement of the peasants and workers and the armed struggle.”

In the early 1990s, the “movement” suffered serious challenges from within. This was after the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a thorough-going “rectification of its past errors” and a “reaffirmation of its basic founding principles.” Armando Liwanag, CPP Chairperson, reasoned out that a rectification campaign is necessary since this would root out the ideological problem of “revisionism,” viewed as the source of the movement’s political and organizational setbacks (e.g., Kampanyang Ahos, a Party-initiated bloody anti-DPA campaign which murdered persons who are suspected as government agents). Revisionism, Liwanag points out, is an ideological disease brought into the Party by petty-bourgeois influences. Nilo de la Cruz (2000:1) however retorted: “Instead of resolving new problems brought about by the all-rounded development of the struggle in the 80’s, it was adjudged erroneous. As if wanting to turn back the hands of time, the CPP leadership prescribed a return to the strategy blueprint laid down in 1968. It was as if the movement, the party and society had gone into suspended animation and never made any progress.”

Thus, the Philippine Left was polarized between two camps—those who saw the necessity of the ND movement’s campaign to weed out “ideological misfits” (the “RAs” or the “Reaffirmists”) and those who rejected this as merely “sweeping statements” (the “RJs” or the “Rejectionists”). These differences culminated in the splitting of its own ranks—leading to the formation of eight other leftist formations. In the Visayas, Luis Jalandoni (1993) reported that “Victor del Mar, former head of the Visayas Commission, was able to get the former Negros regional committee to declare “autonomy” in October 1993.” Victor del Mar later on founded the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), which has now an existing peace agreement with the national government.

Although the split is largely a national phenomenon, this has had an impact on how the Cebuano Left imagines its position now vis-à-vis the “RJs” and the pre-1992 (especially the 1980s) days. This newly reconstructed identity is manifested both in the everyday language of the RAs and in official Party declarations. Integral to this new identity is the experience of cathartic moments—in this case, the Rectification Movement of 1992, which reorients and redirects the Left’s praxis through a new lens. Furthermore, a comparison of the pre-1992 and post-1992 slogans would reveal significant differences in terms of how the Cebuano Left defines itself across time.

Constructing Pagsimang and Pagtul-id

How is the pre-1992 days represented? Post-rectification activists tend to see the pre-1992 days, especially the late 1980s, as a period where ideological disorientation abounds. In common activist lingo, the period is called as pagsimang. The root word of pagsimang is simang, freely translated as a deviation from a defined path. Simang, on the other hand, is the antonym of tul-id. Pagtul-id (to straighten, but freely translated also as to rectify) thus is the antithesis of pagsimang. Thus, rectification movement is translated into Cebuano as kalihukang (“movement for”) pagtul-id (“rectification”).

It is worthwhile to note that the 1992 rectification campaign, officially termed in Party documents as the Second Great Rectification Movement, is rendered into Cebuano in two ways: Ikaduhang Malangkubong Kalihukang Pagtul-id and later on as Ikaduhang Bantugang Kalihukang Pagtul-id. In Cebuano, the highlighted words (malangkubon and bantugan) are entirely different words, but in this case both words indicate the word “great.” Malangkubon (literally translated, as “all-encompassing” or “all-rounded”) fits the ND movement’s vision of thoroughly rooting out the “disorientation” in all spheres of revolutionary activity while bantugan approximates the notion of “greatness”. Strictly speaking however, bantugan in popular Cebuano suggests notions of popularity and notoriety.

Pagtul-id is central to the identity construction of the Cebuano leftist. It is characterized as a positive and therefore desirable (i.e., bantugan) goal as well as a systematic and painstaking (i.e., malangkubon) effort of eliminating “destructive” ideological influences brought about by the following factors: a) “residual” concepts and practice adopted from the period of disorientation, b) ideological influence of bourgeois society in general, and c) the individual’s “class origin” (rendered into Cebuano as hut-ong gigikanan).

Since the setbacks of the pre-1992 period are essentially rooted in ideology, pagtul-id is situated within the individual. The adage, Ang pinakatraydor nga kaaway dili ang kaaway sa hut-ong kundili ang kaaway sulod sa imong kaugalingon” (i.e., The most treacherous adversary is not our class enemy but the “enemy” residing within the individual), illustrates the point. Thus, the individual is also a site of contestation (i.e., panagbangi sa duha ka linya—“two-line struggle”). As such, she/he has to undertake a “remolding process” in order to cast away “bourgeois influences” and assume a “proletarian standpoint, viewpoint, and methods of work.” Those who rejected the rectification movement (the “RJs”) are labeled as unrepentant petty-bourgeoisie, as “mga kauban sa una nga wala magremolde/magtul-id” (i.e., former comrades who refused to undergo the remolding/rectification process), or as mga nadunot nga mga kauban (“ideologically-decadent” comrades).

The concept of “two-line struggle” (panagbangi sa duha ka linya) is important in clarifying the concept of pagsimang and pagtul-id. This is basically an extension of the Maoist idea of the “law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites…” (Mao Tse Tung, 1965: 311). The Cebuano Left sees contradiction as universal and ultimately expressed in the individual’s moda sa panghuna-huna (individual’s world outlook). Consequently, the individual in the context of pagtul-id needs to maintain constant vigilance and strive that the tukma nga linya/tul-id (correct line/”straight”) will prevail over the sayop nga linya/simang (wrong line/deviation). It is not entirely surprising that the Cebuano Left uses tul-id and simang as organizing metaphors in their discourse. These are moral signifiers quite similar to what religious movements use and are embodied in the day to day practice of their followers.

Revolutionary Precision?

The mainstream Cebu ND puts a premium on precision in translating the content of the revolutionary message. Like what the Iloko revolutionaries did , the Cebuano NDs also incorporated (in Leftist parlance, “revolutionized”) and introduced terms formerly confined within English and Tagalog texts. For example, “criticism-and-self-criticism” (CSC) is rendered into Cebuano as pagsaway-ug-pagsaway sa kaugalingon (PPK) or “dialectical materialism” into dayalektikong materyalismo.

Moreover, the concern for “revolutionary precision” leads to the subsumption of certain words within the framework of pagsimang and pagtul-id. Leftist words have distinct meanings and are used in order to realize the Left’s objective of “precision in content.” This is consistent with the Left’s goal of maintaining ideological correctness to veer its direction away from any ideological deviation epitomized in the series of setbacks in the pagsimang period.

However, “revolutionary precision” runs counter to its avowed goals of initiating social awakening (i.e., “arousing the masses”) because it leads to the formation of jargons, not quite understood by outsiders. William D. Lutz (1987:54) remarked: “Jargon can serve an important and useful function. Within a group, jargon allows members of the group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly. Indeed, it is a mark of membership in the group to be able to use and understand the group’s jargon…” In effect, while it effectively transmits “precise” message among Left activists—the problem then is when such message is communicated to the public. For example, personalities from the Left use jargons often. The use of the word imperyalismo (i.e., imperialism) is a jargon that is commonly thrown around and yet incomprehensively discussed. Worse, some speakers shorten imperyalismo into impe, adding on to the problem of communication.

Rally Slogans: National Identity and Local Comprehensibility

One of the characteristics of the rallies is the shouting of slogans while marching through the streets of Cebu. Most of the time, an ajit tim (agitation teams) hails from the ranks of the student youths and the “urban poor.” They are tasked to lead the shouting of the agitation slogans so as to conjure an atmosphere of protest and to break the monotony of marching.

Slogans are usually “borrowed” from the rallyists’ Manila counterparts. While participating in these protest rallies, I always wondered whether ordinary pedestrians understood the message, especially that Tagalog, in Cebuano popular culture, generally symbolizes Manila arrogance . For example, majority of the slogans are in Tagalog while those that are in Cebuano are but translations of Tagalog slogans. Thus, in a rally, it is fairly safe to say that 80%-90% of the slogans are “borrowed” from Manila counterparts. Perhaps this mirrors the general disparity between Manila and the rest of the regions (and thus reflected also in Left language). Alternatively, this may also suggest the desire for continuity among all Leftists in the Philippines.

The Philippine Left needs to generate a national identity necessary for waging a revolution in a culturally diverse and archipelagic country. Without such identity, the revolution would be limited to sporadic regional uprisings aimed at particular ruling families—and not at the “class enemy” of the Maoist imagination. This fits into what Berger and Luckman (1966:40) notes: “…language is capable of transcending the reality of everyday life altogether. It can refer to experiences pertaining to finite provinces of meaning, and it can span discrete spheres of reality…They are “located” in one reality, but “refer” to another.” The Cebuano Left activists therefore, though situated within Cebuano society, aspire for a national identity that may be alien to the “Cebuano” but crucial to achieving revolutionary success on a national scale.

The mainstream Left’s efforts on the need for a national identity can be gleaned in their policy on language. In the booklet Program for the People’s Democratic Revolution (PPDR), section three (3) of the specific program for the cultural field instructs ND activists to “propagate the national language as the principal medium of instruction and communication.” Furthermore, it added that the “national language…shall be given revolutionary content and relate the revolutionary struggles of workers, peasants, soldiers, and other participants of the revolution.” Here, the national language that is to be developed is the same language that the Philippine government is instituting: a Tagalog-based national language—Filipino.

While it is true that the Cebuano Left actively participates in the national identity construction (through various nonverbal means, such as the spread of Left symbols and signs—e.g., rallies, flags, placards, organizational names, etc.), the content and, to some degree, the form is imagined at the national level. In the case of major rallies for example, most of these are nationally coordinated, with the national offices articulating the analysis. The local Left, on the other hand, situates national plans and particularizes these to suit the local context.

Reinventing Rally Chants

Since pagsimang is considered as primarily a negative experience, the post-rectification activists strive to dissociate themselves from it. This is expressed in how slogans are reinvented to show and reinforce pagtul-id and the elimination of slogans associated with simang.

To illustrate, the Bayan Ko chant below (pre-1992 version) is recreated to “fit” within the confines of pagtul-id. The post-1992 version retains almost the entire slogan except for the last line. Post-1992 activists reconfigured the last line into Sa protesta ng bayan, i.e., through the people’s protest, instead of “through the people’s war” to convey a message that the mass movement in the cities is legal and democratic in character. Mouthing “insurrectionary” slogans is inappropriate in the time of “reaffirming” the tenets of “protracted people’s war.” It is common to hear activists saying that these should not be expressed unless it can be discussed extensively. Caution is exercised vis-à-vis topics of revolutionary warfare lest the public might misconstrue rallies as illegal or activities of the “NPAs.” In the context of rallies where awareness raising is sinilhig—hasty and sweeping, words pertaining to armed struggle should thus be avoided. Furthermore, any verbal association with urban-based partisan warfare is deleted and the legality of the protest movement in the cities is asserted.

Whenever certain individuals do mouth slogans considered as incendiary, these behaviors are seen as mga lama sa pagsimang—stains of the period of disorientation—or as a sign of petty bourgeois infantilism.

Slogan 1. Pre-1992 Bayan Ko slogan

Bayan, bayan, bayan ko To my people,
Di pa tapos ang laban mo The fight isn’t over yet
Rebolusyon ni Bonifacio Bonifacio’s revolution
Isulong mo, isulong mo Need to surge forward

Aklas ng Bayan The people’s protest
Isa lang ang kasagutan Calls for an ultimate solution:
Kapag pumula ang silangan When the East is red
Malapit na ang kalayaan Freedom is near,
Kalayaang makakamtan Freedom that will be realized
Sa digmaan ng bayan Through the people’s war

Another case of deletion is the total elimination of the Tubag sa Kalisdanan slogan in all rallies. The “ratatatatratatatatboomboom” at the end of the slogan mimics the staccato of gunfire, indicating armed warfare. This slogan is seen as a product of a petty-bourgeois mindset: impetuous and adventurous yet cowardly in the face of actual face-to-face combat.

The onset of pagtul-id necessitates precision in the mouthing of slogans: simang is associated with armed urban insurrection while tul-id denotes ideas of the protractedness of launching a people’s war.

Slogan 2. Pre-1992 slogan, Tubag sa Kalisdanan

Tubag, tubag, tubag Solution (3x)
Sa kalisdanan To the people’s hardship
Ratatatatratatatboomboomboom Ratatatatratatatatboomboomboom

Slogan 3 however is a different case. While the previous slogans illustrate how ideological and military matters are transmitted into the vocabulary of the slogans, slogan 3 signifies pagtul-id’s “correct” attitude. The cussword in the last line of the slogan is deleted and changed into mga walanghiya! (i.e., persons without shame) instead of putangina (i.e., a whore mother). Though walanghiya basically still is a cussword, it does, to the activist’s mind, capture the “shamelessness” of the neocolonial state’s “puppetry.” In contrast, “putangina” is viewed as dekadente (i.e., decadent)—a characteristic purportedly of the lumpen proletariat—and is not “politically correct” since it tends to denigrate women.

Slogan 3. Pre-1992 Marcos-Aquino slogan

Marcos, Aquino walang pinag-iba Marcos and Aquino are not that different at all
Parehong tuta ng mga Kano Both are puppets of the Americans
Utang ng Utang They keep on procuring loans (from the IMF-WB)
Mga putang-ina! Their mothers are whores!

Rally slogans are central features of any mass mobilization. The slogans change according to how the identity at the present moment is envisaged. For the Cebuano Left, pagsimang and pagtul-id are situated in time. These are conceptual paradigms that differentiate temporal sequences. When one relates a negative experience before 1992, the narrator would say panahon sa pagsimang. Accordingly, the temporality of these concepts is also reflected in how the slogans are reinvented—with pagsimang and pagtul-id as the points of reference.


This paper is in itself an act of translation. This attempts to make a complex and multi-faceted group understandable through an analysis of the Left’s everyday language and rally slogans. It shows how language reflects the varying contexts of the time. The symbols in the language have meaning in themselves and the meaning sets norms of appropriate behavior that reconfigures the mind as well as the body.

Another issue is the tension between national identity and the quest for local intelligibility. The desire for a national identity led to the diminution of local intelligibility—not only because the language used is “foreign” but also because the “indigenized foreign” also has defined “provinces of meaning” (Berger and Luckman, 1966:40). These “provinces of meaning,” in the case of the Left, seem to be exclusively meaningful to people who share the same identity. The locals, whom the Cebuano Left is hoping to organize, are likely to have restricted access to the meaning of the Left’s vast vocabulary. The concern for precision of the translation of the revolutionary message (exemplified in the need for pagtul-id) failed to take into account that one cannot entirely capture the nuances of a foreign text; in a revolution where success lies on popular support, the locals should be considered as active discursive participants and not as passive receptacles of the Left’s symbols.

Yet the relative growth of the Left since the rectification of 1992 poses a theoretical challenge to the hypothesis. If people have restricted access to the Left’s “provinces of meaning,” then what’s the cause of this growing acceptance? Could we further hypothesize then that there are other reasons for political action besides accessibility/inaccessibility to the meaning of Left language? Are there nonverbal cues, or perhaps noncognitive cues, that may transmit meaning as well? What constitutes discourse in the dialogue between the Left and the masa? Or consequently, what is it with the structures in Philippine society that moves people to Leftist political action?

References Cited:

1. Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1966.

2. hooks, bell. “this is the oppressor’s language/yet I need it to talk to you”: Language, a place of struggle,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A. Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995: 295-301.

3. Lutz, William D. Language, Appearance, and Reality: Doublespeak in 1984 in Annual Editions: Anthropology 00/01. Ed. Elvio Angeloni. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, Guilford, CT. 2000:54-59.

4. Mao Tse Tung. “On Contradiction,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. 1. Peking: People’s Publishing House. 1966:311-347

5. Mojares, Resil. From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation in Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 18(1990):75-81.

6. Pei, Mario. The Story of Language. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965.

7. Sengupta, Mahasweta. “Translation as Manipulation: The Power of Images and the Images of Power,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995:159-179.

Mojares, Resil (1990). From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society


1. Communist Party of the Philippines. Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution. 1971.
2. Nilo de la Cruz. Where Does the Real Problem Lie. 4 April 2000
3. Grasp the revolutionary tradition of the Kabataang Makabayan in Kagawasan. Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu. 1995
4. Jalandoni, Luis. Rectification Movement Strikes Deep Roots, Grows with Clear Direction in Kalayaan. 1993:4-6.